What Is a Multilateral Trading Facility?

A multilateral trading facility (MTF) is a European term for a trading system that facilitates the exchange of financial instruments between multiple parties. Multilateral trading facilities allow eligible contract participants to gather and transfer a variety of securities, especially instruments that may not have an official market. These facilities are often electronic systems controlled by approved market operators or larger investment banks. Traders usually submit orders electronically, where a matching software engine pairs buyers with sellers.

Basics of a Multilateral Trading Facility (MTF)

Multilateral trading facilities (MTFs) provide retail investors and investment firms with an alternative to traditional exchanges. Before their introduction, investors had to rely on national securities exchanges like Euronext or the London Stock Exchange (LSE). Faster transaction speeds, lower costs and trading incentives have helped MTFs become increasingly popular in Europe, although the NASDAQ OMX Europe was closed in 2010 as MTFs face intense competition with each other and established exchanges. MTFs operate under the European Union’s (EU's) MiFID II regulatory environment - a revised legislative framework to protect investors and instill confidence in the financial industry.

Products Traded on Multilateral Trading Facilities

MTFs have fewer restrictions surrounding the admittance of financial instruments for trading, allowing participants to exchange more exotic assets and over-the-counter (OTC) products. For example, the LMAX Exchange offers spot foreign exchange and precious metals trading. The introduction of MTFs has led to greater fragmentation in the financial markets since single securities may now list across multiple venues. Brokers responded by offering smart order routing and other strategies to secure the best price between these many venues.

Multilateral Trading Facilities in the United States

In the United States, Alternative Trading Systems (ATSs) operate similarly to MTFs. ATSs are regulated as broker-dealers rather than exchanges in most cases, but must still be approved by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and meet certain restrictions. In recent years, the SEC has intensified its enforcement activities surrounding ATSs in a move that could lead to stricter MTF regulation in Europe. This is especially true for dark pools and other ATSs that are relatively obscure and difficult to trade and value. The most widely known ATSs in the United States are Electronic Communication Networks - or ECNs - that facilitate orders.

Key Takeaways

  • An MTF provides retail investors with an alternative platform to trade financial securities.
  • Market operators and Investment banks usually operate MTFs.
  • MTFs operate under the EU’s MiFID II legislative framework.
  • MTFs typically offer more exotic trading instruments and OTC products.
  • MTFs are known as Alternative Trading Systems in the United States.

Real Life Example of Multilateral Trading Facilities

Investment banks and financial data companies can leverage economies of scale to compete with traditional securities exchanges and potentially realize synergies with their existing trading operations.

Some investment banks - which already ran internal crossing systems - have also converted their internal systems into MTFs. For example, UBS Group AG (UBS) established its own MTF that works in conjunction with its internal crossing systems, while other international investment banks plan to launch their own MTFs as well. More recently, financial data and media company Bloomberg announced that it received authorization from the Netherlands Authority for the Financial Markets (AFM) to operate an MTF from Amsterdam throughout the EU. Bloomberg’s MTF intends to provide quote and trading functionality to eligible participants in products, such as cash bonds, repos, credit default swaps (CDSs), interest rate securities (IRSs), exchange-traded funds (ETFs), equity derivatives and forex (FX) derivatives.